When I began my tenure as Editor-in-Chief as a sophomore in Spring 2007, the University was reeling from one of the most controversial decisions it had made in recent history – a controversy that, two years later, half the current undergraduate student body likely has never heard about.
Earlier in the semester, the University had forbidden a student from bringing a performance of The Vagina Monologues – a groundbreaking play aimed to combat violence against women – to campus. Though administrators agreed that the fundamental values behind the play were something they supported and in line with the mission of the University, its nature, they claimed, was too divisive to bring to St. John’s.
Months later, however, the University unveiled notoriously misogynistic rapper Ludacris as its headlining act for its Just Press Play concert – a decision which former Torch Editor-in-Chief Stephen Pasqualina rightfully criticized as “audacious hypocrisy.”
The issue ultimately boiled down to this: Ludacris was a musical act that, although just as divisive as a performance of The Vagina Monologues, would undoubtedly fill seats in Carnesecca Arena – and fill the University’s wallet at the same time.
Ultimately, Ludacris ended up backing out of the planned performance for reasons unrelated to the controversy, but the whole scenario, which took place just a month before I took over my position on the Torch, left a lasting impression on me and greatly shaped the way I viewed St. John’s these last two years.
I’ve examined nearly every University decision under a critical lens; after all, in light of the decisions regarding The Vagina Monologues, why shouldn’t I have? I’ve learned that it’s of utmost importance that the student body – and future editors of this very paper – remain skeptical and questioning of University procedure. And as we look to the future, there is no better example to dwell on than the creation of a student-run Gay-Straight Alliance, a task currently being undertaken by sophomore Kyle Collins, and a task that could very easily run into the same problems The Vagina Monologues faced two years ago.
Collins’ aim, as he recently told the Torch, is to create an academic and informational organization for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning” students, a group he feels isnecessary on campus.
Administrators said that they were discussing how best to incorporate such a group on campus. And Jose Rodriguez, dean of Student Life, informed the Torch that there have been a number of attempts at creating such a group in the last 23 years, but they all fizzled out, possibly due to “dwindling interest from the students.”
That could be the case, but my fear is that the reason for this waning student support over the years may very well have been caused by a less than enthusiastic administration, which made things difficult for students to start such a group.
Quite frankly, there is no reason that a gay and lesbian awareness group should not be established by Spring 2010. It is my sincerest hope that the University works as efficiently and cooperatively as possible to ensure that the campus community can gain from the academic opportunity such a group could provide, and does not let the controversy surrounding its creation dominate the conversation.
In my two years writing this column, I’ve discussed a number of issues concerning this campus, though I’ve focused on two main ones: dwindling student engagement and fostering an academic environment. It’s courageous students like Collins, who struggle to create something worthwhile to themselves and to others at this University, that have solved these problems. What’s important is that the University not stifle this creativity – as was the case with The Vagina Monologues – but instead encourage it.
I’ve heard people say that “Odds Without Ends” is unnecessarily critical. I’ve heard that my column is “un-Vincentian.” I’ve even heard some claim that I have the uncanny ability to say nothing in 800 words. And perhaps they’re all right.
But that’s neither here nor there. Writing this column for the past two years, and watching the University grow alongside it, has been a vastly rewarding experience, one that has changed me in innumerable ways. And to see the way that students, faculty, and administrators react to the Torch has proven to me that this paper is an essential and driving force of this University.
So, as I write this column for the last time, I can’t help but wish the best of luck to Christina Heiser and Everton Bailey, the Torch’s new leaders. It’s up to them to continue to question and probe this University as it attempts to grow and improve in the next year.
To future staffs of the Torch, and the students, administrators and faculty I’ve interacted with during these past two profoundly rewarding years, I leave you with a quote from Kurt Vonnegut that perfectly illustrates the sentiment “Odds Without Ends” has always strived to inspire: “New knowledge is the most valuable commodity on earth. The more truth we have to work with, the richer we become.”
Keep looking for that truth. If you search hard enough, you’re bound to find it.